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President Of United Steelworkers Says There's Not Rationale To Sanction Canada


In the last few days, we've heard from people who oppose these tariffs. Now we're going to talk with someone who supports them. Leo Gerard is president of United Steelworkers International, and he joins us from Pittsburgh. Welcome.

LEO GERARD: Glad to be on with you.

SHAPIRO: Can I just start by asking on a scale from satisfied to elated and delighted, how are you feeling?

GERARD: Anxious.

SHAPIRO: Anxious - why anxious?

GERARD: Yeah, well, we want to make sure that it goes through in a way that is beneficial to workers and that people understand that our members and our union aren't asking for any special treatment. What we're asking countries to do is not cheat and not break the laws of trade that have been agreed to on a global basis. And as a result of that, if we stop the cheating, then our members will be in a competitive position where they can win.

SHAPIRO: So you've been critical of the way Chinese production has forced global prices down. Why do you think that broad global tariffs against lots of trading partners from the European Union to North American partners and not just China - why do you think that's the right response?

GERARD: Well, look; I think that we haven't come to a conclusion yet of how this is going to work. I think the president was articulating a frustration, and I think as we start to work our way through this and, as he said, there would be other meetings and additional dialogue, I think that what we'll find is that - and what we're certainly supportive of is that the president goes after the - what I call the evildoers or the cheaters and countries like China, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Brazil, Mexico.

SHAPIRO: So that means you do want to see exemptions for Europe, for Canada, some of the places...

GERARD: Well...

SHAPIRO: ...That President Trump has threatened - no exemptions.

GERARD: In fairness, that's the wrong word. We're not looking necessarily for, quote, "exemptions." We're looking at sanctions for those countries and companies that cheat in international trade.

SHAPIRO: Late last week, I spoke with Ohio State University economist Ned Hill he studies manufacturing. And I asked him whether American steelworkers should be happy about this, and here's part of what he said.


NED HILL: If they're going to retire in the next two to three years, they should be doing high fives and dancing in the streets. If they're part of the new, young group of workers who are coming into the plants because the plants have been hiring for the past 2 1/2 years, their life just got a lot dicier because if you look 30 years out, you can look forward to recession and look forward to a trade war.

SHAPIRO: How do you respond to that?

GERARD: I think the guy's full of malarkey, as Joe Biden would say. We've had an accumulated trade deficit with China since they were allowed into the WTO somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 to $8 trillion depending what you put into that. And economists like that one are simply saying that we should let those companies that need to trade in unfair traded products - need to trade with countries that cheat in order to work with cheaters so that they can meet their operating costs. And what should happen to the workers?

SHAPIRO: I know that you're focused on China, but a lot of countries outside of China are very concerned about this. The European Union said it will raise tariffs on American bourbon, Harley motorcycles, blue jeans. Farmers in the Midwest are afraid of agricultural exports being hit. Is your position that you're here to advocate for steelworkers and the other industries don't matter, or are you convinced that these other industries are going to be OK?

GERARD: Look. What we're convinced about is we want to stop the countries that cheat. And we want a level playing field. And a country that's cheating should hopefully get - expect to be sanctioned.

SHAPIRO: And when the European Union says, we're going to raise tariffs on American goods, you're just...


SHAPIRO: Well, because President Trump has said he's not going to exempt the EU.

GERARD: Well, we're not there yet. And the fact of the matter is that if there's countries that cheat, they ought to be sanctioned. And look; our view is really simple. Our members don't want any special treatment. They want a set of rules that everybody is going to play by.

SHAPIRO: If I could end by just asking you one political question...


SHAPIRO: ...Unions are typically a Democratic voting base. President Trump of course is a Republican president who is giving you this policy that you have been seeking. Do you think we're witnessing a political shift here?

GERARD: No. I think that you're going to see a political shift over more than tariffs. I think that there's a lot of other issues. And I know that our members aren't necessarily uniformly moved by those actions 'cause they got a lot of other things that they're concerned about like a huge tax cut that's going to the rich, like the dismantling of our health care system, like cutting back on safety laws at the workplace and a whole bunch of issues. I don't think we've ever been nor will we ever be a one-issue union.

SHAPIRO: Well, Mr. Gerard, thank you for joining us today.

GERARD: You're welcome. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Leo Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers International speaking with us from Pittsburgh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.